Monday, January 28, 2013
I find that we are far too content doing ministry within a realm where church populations are too easily reduced to activities that may be termed as “acceptable social clubs”. Through these clubs, within recent decades, we have embraced many societal ills and promoted the old Roman “bread and circus” tactics. These latter methods were used by Nero to assuage and easily control a consumer populace. We have become accustomed to being there just for the food, just as in Jesus’ ministry after the feeding of the 5000 persons. In my own ministry I’ve noticed that best-attended church events are usually dinners and picnics, often complete with entertainment performances. In this realm we find that these entertainment services, even while using lively and well planned worship and scriptural foundation, come with expectations that persons will activate the snooze alarm during the religious experiences. The result is that that few disciples step forward for the work of the kingdom after the food runs out and music dies.
Rather than remain in this foot-tapping, munching and navel-gazing mode, I prayerfully offer that we are called by our Creator to return to sure methods of Christian evangelical outreach, using a proven model… one that worked well in the days when Caesar haunted the early church. Let us return to the “haustafel” even while the world around us presses many hold-out faithful Christians into whitened-citadels that have caved to new, progressive, apostate faith expressions. As well, know that we contend with those who wallow in lazy ease in watching popular TV evangelists… thus confining any hope of gospel proclamations to their pets that sleep on the carpet in front of a living room chair. Too often these programs seek only the fellowship of credit card donations for a shallow TV ministry, and do not build the faith community.
In return to our Christian basics, we may rightfully enlist the support of a central community already in existence, be it a church or collective group. In my own case, I stand blessed that our Hope Lutheran Church, in Smethport, PA is a faithful group. But, though small, stable and strong in faith, I am afraid we operate sociologically in a no-growth local community. The community contains, like neighboring towns, large populations that are of the greater unchurched, impervious it seems due to societal coddling... except when towers fall.
Amid other faithful and worthy denominational expressions, then, we do collective ministry in concert. But few new persons face our altars. Given this static state, I believe we Christians have to change our clothes after worship, to put on wandering robes and springboard into a growing future ministry using the “haustafel” model. However, take note that some obvious social dynamics differ between the environment of the early disciples and ourselves, i.e. modern travel and communications. Where the disciples went two-by-two, and lodged with receptive synagogue households, we may now go out, share the Word, and return to home fires in the evening.
Where do we go? I believe that we need start by going to a location, either local or distant, and just hang out.., giving clear sign that we are clergy or church related. In order are clerics garb for clergy, or T-shirts and caps etc. for laypersons. By invading coffee shops, restaurants, and community centers, I believe we shall find opportunity for witness. I hope to take my wife in this effort, for this delightful woman can strike up a friendly conversation with anyone at any time. I have witnessed her doing wondrous evangelical work in a local laundromat! Given this fruitful casual method, we need only choose the when to go. During morning hours, I plan to garner refreshment at a popular coffee house, dawdling there to read the paper. For lunch, a slimming sub may put me in the daily flow of many who work, study or play locally. Engaging any of these persons in conversation, may offer a rich avenue for a following invitation. Pay attention to spiritual plight of the neighbor! If rebuffed, so be it.
How long will this take? As long as it takes.., until not being received in that place at all by any, we shake the dust from our feet and move to another site, taking with us the lessons learned from previous efforts.
What about faith communities already present in these places? I find that in my case many rural communities do not have a pastor or priest in residence, but these only arrive from out-of-town for Sunday worship or special occasions. Many are allied with stodgy denominational ties that have already fallen asleep. We must remember that our Lord did ministry in the very shadows of the Jerusalem temple.
For this reason, my prayers go to the Holy Spirit, that we shall be empowered to establish a “Haustafel Bible Study Group”. I plan to go into neighboring communities just as the first apostles and disciples. Either two by two, or by one, I hope to spend sufficient time in each to establish a group. We can then find a formal meeting space; a local coffee shop, community center, golf club, restaurant or private home. Does the town have municipal associations wherein information can be acquired? The purpose is not to establish “church”, but to rightly proclaim the gospel of God. Thus I hope to establish Christian networking in studying the Word, and thus be led by the Spirit to do ministry together. Whether a church would result shall be as fluid as the miraculous sweet wine of the Eucharist. This, I think, is the way to approach evangelism in today’s mobile phone, social network society… one that seems impervious to the faith expressions of older church living patterns.
I cannot speak for other Christians and their communities, but though Facebook is great for publicly posting biblical texts, events etc., for any church or person, this online media does not replace where two or three persons are gathered…with the Lord present amongst them. Today I thus begin my search. My Lord said.., “Go into all nations… so I’ve called up Google Earth, and gotten out my NWPA map. I have begun to plot where to start mid-week or Saturday scripture study within 100 miles drive of Smethport. I shall pray.., then go. I shall plant my fanny, drink coffee, and tour these places. I shall be clothed in clerics with bible in hand. So far in my looking at the map, I see to choose carefully… lest I become discouraged. So Lord, be merciful and send me to just one of your lost ones.